Thaksin Remains In The Hearts And Minds Of Isaan People

By D. Arul Rajoo
KALASIN (Northeast Thailand), Dec 18 (Bernama) — Retired teacher Sukin Klangseng waits patiently for his turn to see the doctor at the government hospital for his monthly check-up.

“I cannot afford to go to the private hospital, it’s too expensive…sometimes costs me Bt2,000. With my small pension and some money from my children to survive, I would rather wait here for a few hours,” said the 72-year-old ex-teacher.

Sukin said it was much easier more than a year ago when the 62.8 million Thai population was enjoying the Bt30 healthcare programme mooted by then prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, where they could seek treatment at any hospital for that sum.

But when the military ousted Thaksin on Sept 19, 2006, his populist schemes also went down the drain with him.

“The government said we don’t need to pay anymore for medical but now we can only go to the government hospital.

The queue is very long…I am very sad Thaksin is no longer here,” said Sukin who openly declared his support for the deposed premier.

In fact, analysts and politicians are predicting that people in Isaan, Thailand’s northeast region, would give strong mandate to the People’s Power Party (PPP), formed by Thaksin’s allies and which has pledged to restore the previous populist programmes like the Bt30 scheme, at the Dec 23 general election.
In the 19 north-eastern provinces, more than 1,500 contenders are vying for 135 seats.

Peerapet Sirikul, a former member of parliament for Kalasin which is known as an agricultural province producing sticky rice and other cash crops as well as silk, said the region used to be poor until Thaksin introduced schemes like the small business loan and the one-million baht village fund programmes.

“People want the old policy back, such as the Bt30 healthcare plan, small loan and interest free loan. Since PPP’s programme is similar to Thai Rak Thai’s (TRT), they have accepted us…they want back the policy and Thaksin,” said the former TRT MP who is now contesting under the PPP banner after the former was dissolved by the court in May.

With one third of the 400 available constituency seats located in the Isaan region, Peerapet said PPP was likely to win more than 80 per cent of the seats, and with similar support from the north and some areas in the central, should be able to form the new government on its own.

“The people are not concerned about the candidate. As long as they are from PPP, they will vote them because Thaksin is the key factor. Because of this, some people from other parties are claiming they are getting support from Thaksin ,” he said.
Opinion polls taken in the run up to the election showed that PPP will sweep the majority of the 135 consituency-based seats from the region, similar to the 2001 and 2005 landslide victory.

The “No Vote” majority here against the new Constitution during the August referendum was clear indication of Thaksin’s continued support. Puea Pandin, Ruam Jai Thai Chart Pattana, Democrat could win the rest.

Asked on claims of vote buying, Peerapet said such practices still existed in some areas despite the strong warning from the Election Commission of Thailand, with reports of certain people giving Bt200 to each family.

Reports of rampant vote buying in the region in past elections did not go down well with the people here.

“One of the reasons people don’t like Democrat is they keep on claiming that we are being bought over. The truth is they just don’t care about rural people like us,” said Sukin’s nephew, Ponchai Klangsengwan, who received a Bt20,000 loan under the village fund to open a sundry shop.

Peerapet said political parties were more careful now as the new constitution allowed for their dissolution if found guilty of corrupt practices.

“But victory will not come easy as the northeast region is very big and candidates are finding it hard to reach out to the mostly rural voters due to the limited campaigning period,” said Peerapet.

On fears that the military would be harassing some political parties, he said there were no problems so far as they had been very cooperative and had become the channel for receiving complaints of vote buying.

Despite the military going all out to discredit Thaksin in the past one year, and even without his physical presence in the country, the businessman-turned telecommunication tycoon is set to be the key player in the Sunday election that could see the revival of TRT under PPP’s banner.




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